How Kids With Autism Express Their Love

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

Today is Valentine’s Day and love is in the air. My son, Norrin, is seven years old and I can count the times that he’s said “I love you” to me spontaneously. When I tell him I love him, he usually says it back (I never taught him to say it). Or he just says “yes” (and that makes me smile). I don’t know if he understands what love means. Love is an abstract concept for many kids with autism to understand. But I know that Norrin loves me, he doesn’t need to say it with words – he shows me.

I asked some autism mom bloggers how their kids show their love and this is what they shared:

Lizbeth, Four Sea StarsAlex sighs when I give him a kiss goodnight. Like a big peaceful, happy sigh. That and he says, “I love you,” when I give him the go-ahead to play minecraft.

Beth, Maternal InstinctsEvery morning, first thing, and every night as I tuck him into bed, Nik will lean in to me to give me a soft kiss on the lips. He lets me give him kisses all the time and he’ll give them to me when I ask. But these two times –the bookends of the day– he gives them freely. It is also the only time he looks me directly in the eyes. I live for those moments of connection. [Nik is non-verbal and 9 years old]

Varda, Squashed MomIt was really really important to me that Jacob’s ABA therapists never taught him to say “I love you” as a rote thing. I was even ok with the idea of him never saying it back to me, because nothing would be worse than him saying it and never knowing if it was because he felt it and understood what it meant or because it had been taught as the “correct” response, So that the first time he told me “I love you Mommy!” – he was about 5 – I knew it was completely spontaneous and real.

Sunday, Adventures of Extreme ParenthoodEvery morning as my boys ride off to school in their bus I do the sign for “I love you”. Last year when Sam was about to turn 9 he waved to me and held up his hands and did a perfect Spock “Live long and prosper” sign back to me. I know for sure my boys know I love them but in that instant I knew without a doubt that Sam loved me back.

Diane, Our Adventures with Riley: Ri will ask “Can I kiss you gently?” and then plant a kiss ever-so-gently on my cheek.

Patty, Pancakes Gone AwryI know Danny loves me because even when he needs a break from the whole world, even when he’s tired of his siblings, his classmates and everyone, he will let me sit with him quietly. I will ask him if he wants me to leave him alone and he will say, “No, you can stay.” Sometimes he’ll talk to me about LEGOs or Minecraft. And other times we just sit there quietly together.

Jessica, Don’t Mind the MessI see signs of love in physical affection. Graham wants to sit on my lap, he wants to lay on me, he wants me to hold him close. And, of course, sometimes when he doesn’t want me to go he’ll wrap himself around my leg.

Miz Kp, Austistic Seas: My son Angel can’t say I love you. but I know he does when he saids “kiss kiss” and plants one on my cheek. His actions speak louder than any words.

Jennifer, Want a Peanut: Because my son is non-verbal, Moe expresses love in more subtle ways, like the way he leans his head on my shoulder when we sit together on the couch. His babysitters also report he looks for me when I’m not there. The first time they told me that, I cried!

How does your child show that he/she loves you? 

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  1. by Leigh Merryday

    On February 14, 2013 at 5:22 am

    I’m very lucky that my autistic son is very physically affectionate. He reaches up his arms to be picked up and then hugs me tightly, lays his head on my shoulder, and just smiles. He also gives kisses. When asked, but often spontaneously. Even though he is mostly non-verbal, he even sometimes makes the “mwah” sound when doing it. He loves to crawl up on our lap and just sit and snuggle. And if he wakes in the night, you can be assured that I will spend the evening on the edge of my king-sized mattress – with him wedged tightly behind my back. His teacher sent me a note, “He’s a little lover!” :)

  2. by Leah

    On February 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    I’m also extremely lucky, my son is very affectionate with words and physically with me. I am the only one.. others in his life, ask for more physically from him but don’t get it. It can be overwhelming sometimes, that he wants to touch me almost constantly, but I make sure to remind myself, if it becomes too much, that there are so many that wish for a hug! I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum! I am so grateful for my son and his immense love for me.

  3. [...] Today is Valentine’s Day and love is in the air. My son, Norrin, is seven years old and I can count the times that he’s said “I love you” to me spontaneously. When I tell him I love him, he usually says it back (I never taught him to say it). Or he just says “yes” (and that makes me smile). I don’t know if he understands what love means. Love is an abstract concept for many kids with autism to understand. But I know that Norrins loves me, he doesn’t need to say it with words – he shows me. I asked some autism mom bloggers how their kids show their love and this is what they shared:  [...]

  4. by Monica

    On February 14, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    My son gives me a giant “squeeze hug” to show me he loves me. He loves the physical contact of a hug, cuddle, or being curled up on my lap. He doesn’t like kisses much, but he’ll come up to me and snuggle forehead to forehead or cheek to cheek.

  5. by Sunday Stilwell

    On February 14, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you so much, Lisa, for including my Sam in your post. I love my little mini-Sheldon.